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Cooking Up Kool Things

Revolver #1, March 2000. Article by Matt Diehl.


Meet the new skronk. Same as the old skronk? As sessions for their forthcoming album, New York City Ghosts and Flowers, make abundantly clear, that's not the case where Sonic Youth is concerned.

Ghosts and Flowers - "It's named after a press run by late-Sixties/early-Seventies Cleveland radical freak drug poets" says guitarist/vocalist Thurston Moore - finds rock's avant guardians ringing in the 21st century with a predictably unpredictable artistic gear shift. For one, in addition to longtime recording associate Wharton Tiers, Moore, his wife and bandmate Kim Gordon, guitarist Lee Ranaldo, and drummer Steve Shelley have brought produce Jim O'Rourke (Stereolab, Superchunk) into the fold. Ghosts also replaces the epic, organic song structures of Sonic Youth's previous major-label release, 1997's A Thousand Leaves, with short, stinging musical jolts. "The songs are very concise in length, but not in concept: They're more open-ended," Ranaldo remarks. "We want to be loose, more casual"

On this particular day at SY Central, Kim Gordon's plan to record vocals get sidetracked when Moore mischievously begins jamming out on vibes, then switches to bass. ("I had plans to be the bass player on this record," he deadpans. "Maybe next time.")
Before long, O'Rourke takes over the vibes detail with jazzy aplomb, and Ranaldo picks up a hollow-body guitar and cranks up the vibrato, reacting with glee to the interplanetary Hawaiian/surf-guitar extravaganza that ensues. Gordon then leaps into the fray with a guitar, leading what began as white-light cacophony into an off-kilter modal drone that's disturbingly, gratingly hypnotic - and a sound unlike anything else in rock.

In other words, it's business as unusual, Sonic Youth style.
 

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